After being dubbed one of the most highly rated young defenders in the world, things have not quite gone Sebastian Coates' way since moving to England. At 22, however, there is still more than enough time for the Liverpool centre back to find his best form and show why he was such hot property back in Uruguay.
The Montevideo native with the British surname (he is descended from Scottish immigrants to the South American city) came to prominence spectacularly in 2011. Drafted into the Uruguay first team thanks to injury, Coates responded with a magnificent Copa America campaign alongside Diego Lugano.
It was this solidity at the back which was the key to the Celeste victory—and that same presence which convinced Liverpool to sign him, as confirmed by the BBC, on an undisclosed fee just one month after the final triumph against Paraguay.
The 20-year-old voted Copa America revelation that year would not have expected to walk straight into the first team; but the last two years have been far worse than anyone could have pictured.
Since his move to Anfield, the towering defender has made just 24 appearances in two full seasons. For a player who at just 18 and 19 was an undisputed starter for Nacional while also playing in the Copa Libertadores, this lack of playing time represents a giant step backwards in his aspirations.
When he has gotten the chance, results have been varied. Used mostly in the FA and League Cups, Coates has failed to put in the kind of performances which could unseat first-choice pair Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. One recent display against Oldham was savaged by the Daily Mail as "useless" due to a series of mistakes that helpéd the lower league inflict a humiliating defeat.
It is hard to see how things will be different for Coates the coming year on Merseyside. Kolo Toure has already arrived from Manchester City, pushing the Uruguayan further down the pecking order. With the World Cup just one year away, cutting short his Liverpool career may be the only way for the youngster to guarantee his place in the Uruguay squad for Brazil, assuming the Celeste go on to qualify.
Matias Bustos Milla of the Argentine daily Clarin linked Coates, along with international teammate and captain Lugano, with a move to Boca Juniors in the current transfer window. While the opportunity to play under the tutelage of the masterful coach Carlos Bianchi and in the same team as the virtuoso Juan Roman Riquelme would be attractive, the pay disparities between the English and the Argentine league are big enough to make a deal seem extremely unlikely.
His destination may still be a mystery, but Coates knows that he needs regular action, and fast. "I want to play, and more than anything with all that is coming up for the national team, I need to play. With this in mind, I want to play whether it is at Liverpool or somewhere else," the youngster told El Observador (via Ed Malyon of Mirror Football).
It's difficult [to train all week and not play], but this happens to all players at some point and you just have to train as hard as you can to show that if they give you a chance then you will make the most of it. In the window there was the possibility of going on loan to a few teams but the club told me that I couldn't... I have a contract until 2016, but we will have to see what will happen with my future. I will wait until the transfer window and talk to the club.
Trailing behind Lugano and Diego Godin for his nation, and at the back of the line in Anfield, the last two years have shown Coates that nothing can be taken for granted in football. There is no doubt, however, for those who saw him hold the line during the Copa America and with Nacional that this is a man who is a special talent at the back.
If the Uruguayan can make the jump into a regular starting spot for the Reds or find a club that will give him the chance to shine, he could well make a sizeable impact at the next World Cup and beyond.